Much has been said and written about the twin Gulf Wars. But not much is known about how these events affected the lives of Iraqi women. American writer-actor Heather Raffo aimed to do just that in her monologue 9 Parts of Desire. She first staged it in August 2003. It chronicles the lives of nine Iraqi women from 1991 to present day and their struggle for survival.
The critically-acclaimed production, which has been staged at Broadway, West End, will now be presented in Mumbai by actor-director Lillete Dubey under her banner Primetime Theatre Co. Ira Dubey, who makes her solo debut with this 60-minute production, essays all the nine roles. One of them is a painter, Layal, who was apparently modeled on real-life artist Laila al Adar.
She was known for her nude female paintings and was touted to be close to people in Saddam’s regime. Adar, who was killed in 1991, was survived by her blind husband and daughter. Other characters include that of an old woman who lives in a bomb shelter, a schoolgirl who is forced to stay at home due to the wars, an exile who stays in London and a lady who has had three failed relationships.
The unique story as well as the character’s anguish attracted Ira to the play. She says, “I had performed one of the roles of 9 Parts of Desire at the Prithvi Festival in 2012 as part of its Carnival celebrations that feature short pieces. I was deeply moved by the plight of these women and decided to act in the full-fledged production. Luckily, my aunt Lushin Dubey said that she had not only seen it in the Edinburgh festival but also had the script as she was planning to stage it. She sent me the script. Once I read it, I got in touch with Raffo, who was co-operative.”
Raffo got the idea for the piece after she saw Adar’s paintings at an art museum in Baghdad and followed it up by interviewing a cross-section of Iraqi women. Ira maintains that 9 Parts of Desire is not a didactic play but a human-interest story. She admits that making her solo debut has been a ‘daunting experience.’ “The challenge is to ensure that I make the audience my confidante. Also I didn’t opt for costume changes or make-up to essay the characters but focussed on my body launguage and voice modulation,” she explains.
Lillete Dubey, who is known for staging original Indian works, maintains that the play’s universal concept appealed to her. “Some times, you come across stories that are so powerful and transcend all boundaries that you are prompted to stage them. I didn’t need to change the work at all for Indian audiences,” she signs off.